PSG’s thrashing of Barcelona awoke hope in some people; ‘if PSG can win like that, why can’t we?’. Others wondered why we never played that well against the Catalans. Me? Why couldn’t Barca have played that badly against us…
Which is where we are tonight. Out of nowhere, we’ve got to find the best performance of a lifetime to win in Munich. But winning isn’t the be-all and end-all; tonight, at the final whistle, I’ll be happy if we’re still in the tie. And I don’t mean figuratively or fulfilling our contractual obligation for the home match, I mean genuinely in with a chance of going through to the last eight.
I’m not holding my breath. I’m not, and I really mean that; it’s bad for your health. As are some of our recent performances, as well as the results. Instead of looking at the 1 – 5 defeat last season, look at how we’ve played in big away games this season. Don’t try to invoke the spirit of 2 – 0 wins and 1 – 1 draws without referring back to the 1 – 3 defeat in 2005, when arguably a better team was lucky to leave Munich with just three goals conceded. The point is, the past gives us a no better clue which Arsenal will turn up tonight, than the present.
Contrary to the headlines, it wasn’t much of a decision; Wenger always planned to play the Colombian tonight. Some claim that Petr Cech is more reliable than Ospina; I’d say his recent performances put that theory to the test. The former Czech Republic international has been far from his best this season while Ospina’s form has been far better than previous years at the club.
That’s the kiss of death, isn’t it…
Cech Is Out, Anyone Else?
A genuine selection issue is whether Mesut Özil plays. Well, it might be in our minds but I can’t envisage a situation where the German will be left out for tonight’s game, certainly not by Arsène, anyway.
Wenger is well aware of the criticism of the midfielder but underlined his backing for the £42m man,
“I have no doubt that we play in Germany and Özil is highly focused to have a good performance.”
Özil’s inclusion draws a red line through the hopes of setting the team up to provide more midfield support to the defence. It also brings into question Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s involvement tonight.
Unless Arsène decides that Francis Coquelin’s rough and tumble style isn’t suited to this stage, he will form the central pairing with Granit Xhaka. It’s a shame; Ox has been the one bright spark in the side since moving to the centre and it seems we are to lose that.
He may play on the right but unless Wenger is planning on using Welbeck on the left, we’re desperately short of goal-threat without Walcott in the side. Welbeck on the right is a decision designed to keep Alex Iwobi in the starting line-up which, as we saw at Stamford Bridge, gives us a luxury we can ill-afford in big matches. It’s Iwobi or Özil, not both in these games.
At home, yes, both, no hesitation beyond immediate concerns of form. Away? No.
That’s where we have to be honest as well. PSG, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea; the four biggest games away from home and four terrible performances. Surely Arsène looks at that quartet and sees a pattern? Two barely deserved draws and two defeats, with only one disappointing outcome. The rest we half-expected.
Will anything change at Bayern tonight?
That’s the question and where the eternal hope of a supporter kicks in. Beforehand, you’ll be as calculated as ever but the closer to kick-off we get, the hazier the logic becomes. When you see the players on the pitch, all logic goes out of the window; the heart rules the head completely until, or if, we see the outcome as beyond argument.
Just stay in the tie, lads; is that too much to ask?
The line-up I would field tonight is not the one you’ll see:
Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elneny; Walcott, Alexis, Welbeck
Arsène won’t make big changes for the match tonight, though and I suspect his line-up will be:
Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Coquelin; Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi; Alexis
Maybe he will start Welbeck but I don’t think so. If he does, it’s a statement of counter-attacking intent. A couple of changes is just business as usual.
And we can’t afford that. We haven’t played well away from home – with our ‘usual XI’ – since West Ham. Southampton, outstanding win, but with the ‘reserves’.
Tonight, we’ve got to invoke that spirit. It’s a shame that Lucas has a hamstring issue otherwise, there’d be an inclination to use him on the right instead of Theo. The Spaniard is genuinely unlucky not to feature more often, especially when you consider some of our recent performances, but not tonight Josephine.
In the lead up to the match, there’s a post from Phil at Angry of Islington which is well worth a read. Click here.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.